Tembec, the international forestry conglomerate based in Temiscaming, is appealing to Crees for help in gaining certification with the Forest Stewardship Council of Canada (FSC). Certification is important for the company because it would enable them to sell their timber at a higher price to large multinational retailers such as Home Depot.

The forested area Tembec is looking to certify is 1,281,782 hectares large and is situated near La Sarre, Quebec. Roughly 20 per cent, or 244,633 hectares, of the area is considered Cree territory. Tembec has already held a preliminary discussion with the nearby community of Waskaganish.

Tembec is also pursuing a Chain of Custody Certification (CCC), which the buyer can use to trace the wood’s origins and guarantee its authenticity.

The process is so new that representatives from Waskaganish could not comment as they have yet to discuss in full what FSC certification will mean for their land and their people.

As the Forest Stewardship Council of Canada’s website explains, the National Boreal Standard encourages forestry companies to consult local communities in their harvest plans.

“By involving local communities in the development of standards, issuing a recognized worldwide label to well-managed forests, and providing consumers with options, the FSC’s approach effectively links local ecological, social and cultural environments to the global responsibility for the health of the forests,” according to the website.

Chris McDonnell, Tembec’s manager of Aboriginal and environmental relations, told the Nation the company made a commitment to seek FSC certification across all company license areas in Canada, including northern Quebec, in 2001.

“The first step was to develop standards needed by the Forest Stewardship Council for the boreal forest,” says McDonnell. “This was concluded in December 2003. The second thing was evaluating our own operations to see how we measure up. That’s an internal process of reviewing the many requirements and comparing our practices,” he said.

In order to obtain FSC certification, the company must adhere to certain requirements determined by an audit. The audit will be done by a non-profit auditing organization called Smartwood, and monitored for a five-year period, the duration of the certification. The audit is expected to take place in October of this year.

The auditors then write a report. “They may identify that there are preconditions, or things that must be addressed and fixed,” said McDonnell. “The timelines may be a year or three, but no more than five, which is consistent with the life of the certification. Then they have recommendations as well. Things that are not a requirement, but are things that they ask you to think about based on their international experience. If you become certified, there’s a public report describing the findings of the audit, an overview of the forest, what the requirements are to maintain certification.”

Before an audit is to take place however, a field study is conducted, McDonnell said. “Going to the woods and sampling,” he said. “Looking at as many company operations as they [the auditors] can. They talk to as many people, including Native communities, they read documents, talk to government representatives, talk to workers, tourism businesses, gain a whole host of perspectives on the management of the forest by the company. Those issues are part of the process of planning when the audit would start.”

The auditors return every year to evaluate the company’s progress on the gaps or their findings. They expect a good level of performance in relation to what the standards require.

The auditing process is fairly new, McDonnell noted, saying it has only been tried once before in Quebec, near the town of Davidson.